Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings have supported and flown F-35A Lightning II aircraft during Combat Hammer, the first operational air-to-ground weapons evaluation for the United States Air Force’s newest fighter jets.
Combat Hammer, which took place at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is part of the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), testing and validating the performance of crews, pilots and their technology while deploying air-to-ground precision-guided munitions for the F-35A.
The weeklong evaluation exercise concluded on August 11. The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron (FWS) detachment commander who oversaw it said he received positive feedback regarding above-average mission and sortie rates.
“Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron’s F-35s,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Smith.
Teams from the 53rd Wing, the parent command of the 86th FWS, were integral to the operational testing and evaluation of the F-35A. Col. Dave Abba, the 53rd Wing commander at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, visited Hill AFB to observe Combat Hammer and meet with 86th FWS airmen, operations crews and evaluation participants.
He described Combat Hammer as essential to ensuring that weapons systems continue to work as they were designed to, thanks to its ability to identify potential issues in a controlled environment and to assess weapons in real time.
Statistical data derived from Combat Hammer helps Air Force leaders make resourcing decisions. It also provides contingency planners with a solid understanding of weapons systems performance and their potential effects.
“What air-to-air (Combat Archer) and air-to-ground WSEP bring to the fight is statistical confidence,” said Abba. “So that’s really the key to this: it’s not simply subjective opinions about whether these things work or whether they don’t work – we bring the numbers to back it up so we can tell our senior leadership with a certain degree of confidence that this airplane with this munition against this sort of a target is going to have this probability of success.”
Abba is confident the F-35A will be a critical system in ensuring national security in the USA.
“It’s going to be the cornerstone of our fighting force for a long time and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s living up to the challenge and meeting our expectations, and in several areas exceeding them,” he said.